Community Spotlight: Elizabeth & George Burtt

Community Spotlight: Elizabeth & George Burtt

Twice a month, Elizabeth and George Burtt drive their 1936 Plymouth coupe to the Groundwork Roastery in North Hollywood to scoop up coffee chaff (the light husks of coffee beans that fall off during roasting). They haul it home to Sun Valley and let their 7-year-old son, Paulie, sprinkle the recycled substrate around the coop for their eight ducks. In their yard, 50 burlap coffee sacks from Groundwork are staked into the ground as planters bursting with organic sprouts. 

close-up selfie of Elizabeth & George wearing black "Viva La Vegan Tacos" shirts


I sat down with Elizabeth and George at Groundwork’s NoHo cafe on a June day perfect for Elizabeth’s favorite drink at Groundwork, a black nitro cold brew (as always, George takes sips from whatever she’s drinking). 

The Burtt’s main gigs are Viva La Vegan Tacos and Crunchy Munchy Microgreens, but their myriad of sustainability and animal rescue community service is just as impressive. 

Laying the groundwork for sustainable living 

Both born and raised in the Los Angeles Valley, George and Elizabeth ran a tattoo shop in Granada Hills for 10 years and sold Elizabeth’s “Bowtiki” brand hair accessories. The birth of their son motivated them to go full force into their sustainable lifestyle. 

“A light switch flipped and we both wanted to live longer and to be healthier,” Elizabeth recalls about Paulie being born. 

With a renewed focus on their health, the Burtts started growing organic vegetables and went vegan for six years. When they started homeschooling Paulie, they wanted to teach him how to be sustainable and self-sufficient. So, they turned their yard into a closed-loop food system complete with an organic garden, a massive compost pile, and many animals that eat the food scraps. Paulie is now quite the expert on this intricate ecosystem. 


Elizabeth and Paulie smiling in front of Groundwork Coffee headquarters


The Groundwork Roastery has designated dumpsters for its coffee chaff and burlap sacks in which coffee is imported so that anyone can easily upcycle them. During the time that the Burtts were building out their garden, Groundwork Roastery employees posted the burlap sacks on Facebook Marketplace, and Elizabeth jumped at the opportunity. We offered her coffee chaff for composting as well – so much of it that the Burtts started using it as an excellent substrate for their ducks. 

7 brown, tan and white speckled ducks in their coop with coffee chaff as a substrate


One spring day, a bed of sprouts – from squash to purple sweet potatoes to tomatoes – started popping from their compost pile. Not wanting them to go to waste, the Burtts moved the sprouts into the burlap sacks. The plants are now well-established and they continue to propagate them. 

The Burtts foster multiple lifecycles on their property. Their four rescue tortoises eat surplus produce recovered from a local grocer, and their organic waste (including Groundwork coffee grounds and chaff and scraps from taco prep) goes into the compost, which is crawling with insects that they feed their ducks and lizards (some of which are rescues, too). The compost also serves as an essential component of healthy garden soil. 

“It's so cool that you can take stuff that you'd normally throw away in the green dumpster and literally life comes from it. The microbiome in the soil is so active and there's so many insects and lizards. Everything comes to life from starting a compost pile,” George says. 

Guerilla tacos and gangsta gardens

Invigorated by their passion to uplift their community, the Burtts took a guerilla approach to starting Viva La Vegan tacos and the community garden. In 2019, they started selling vegan tacos with organic ingredients outside their tattoo shop to raise funds for an art therapy nonprofit George hopes to start for people with ADHD like himself.

 The Burtts were blown away by how quickly their tacos gained popularity through word of mouth and raving Yelp reviews. Word reached the creator of The Walking Dead, who asked the Burtts to cater his small family party. Soon after, L.A. Taco ranked Viva La Vegan as one of the best street tacos in the San Fernando Valley. 

close up of a taco in a box with peppers, grilled pineapple, lime wedges, pickled onion, and cabbage


As quickly as their success came, the Burtts were hit with back-to-back tests of their resilience: first, the city shut down their taco stand for vending on the sidewalk, and then George’s dad was diagnosed with cancer. 

They sold the tattoo shop, put the taco operation on the backburner, and moved in with George’s dad in Sun Valley to care for him. His dad’s diagnosis got George brainstorming about how to improve his overall health. He went to the basics – fresh, nutritious food and connecting more deeply with the earth. The Burtts ramped up their gardening to provide George’s dad with the many nutrients and cancer-fighting compounds in plants. The Burtts have watched their organic produce improve their entire family’s health. 

Elizabeth says that food from their garden tastes better because they get to experience each exciting stage of plant growth. 

"It's magic,” she says.

They soon ran out of gardening space on their property, but luckily, Los Angeles legalized gardens on public curbside land in 2013, thanks to the “gangsta gardener” Ron Finley. So, the Burtts expanded their crops off their property with a community garden. 

“We're essentially seeing what we can get away with because it's on city property,” George laughs. “But our overall community there loves it.” 

Their community has been begging them to bring back their tacos and, after a five-year taco hiatus, George and Elizabeth’s optimism and perseverance allowed them to do so. They sell them curbside for now, but will soon have a stand at the farmers markets. 

burlap coffee sacks filled with growing vegetables in the community garden
burlap coffee sacks  filled with growing vegetables in the community garden

 Fueling a healthier community

There’s no doubt that the Burtts have a knack for fostering community. For George, community means spreading awareness and love in everything you do. For Elizabeth, it’s “to give and receive the good vibes.” They don’t expect many of their neighbors to be able to help in the community garden, which doesn’t phase them. 

“It's kind of hard to involve your community directly with the community garden because it's a lot of work. Not everybody wants to get their hands in the dirt and pound stakes in the ground in the sun,” George says. 

Instead, the Burtts give neighbors the resources for a sustainable and healthy lifestyle. George passes out seedlings to passersby and shares his extensive knowledge with anyone who will listen.  

“We are able to give back in knowledge, and soon it'll be edible what we can give back,” Elizabeth says, as they have a handful of projects in the works. 

“Once we are able to harvest the crop from the community garden, we're going to make tacos out of the squash and out of the purple sweet potatoes and give them away to our community,” George says. 

The Burtts are setting up a community compost pile and a crate with Groundwork coffee sacks just outside their yard for their neighbors to share. Expanding their booths at the Good Times Farmer's Market (where they sell hair accessories and microgreens), the Burtts will soon set up a free art therapy station and a petting zoo of sorts where Paulie can teach the community about their rescue tortoises and other exotic creatures. 

close up of squash blossom in the community garden


Written by
Melina Devoney
Barista & Coffee Journalist